Start ‘em early!

… I’m talking about both your crops as well as your kids!

It’s mid-April, and that means the whole family has been pitching in to get the yard cleaned up and the garden beds planted with early season veggies. These include peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, radishes, beets and lettuce. The garlic, planted last fall, is just starting to sprout, with new, lovely green shoots popping up overnight.

At age two and a half, Sophia already loves helping out in the garden, especially when water is involved. Here she is tending to the garlic patch. Love this kid!

 

50 Shade of Green

Reason #6: 50 Shades of PESTICIDE-FREE Leafy Greens

Leafy greens – kale, spinach, swiss chard, lettuces and arugula – are one of the best things to grow in any garden. For one thing, most green varieties are frost hardy and so are one of the first crops you can plant. They are also fast growing, so are one of the first crops to harvest in the spring. The root systems of greens are fairly small and shallow, so you can plant a lot of it in a small space; the Square Foot Gardener recommends 4 lettuce, chard or kale plants per square foot. Finally, with succession planting, because they are frost hardy, greens are one of the latest crops going in the garden. Kale and swiss chard are often still green when the snow starts to fly.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach... It's so easy being green.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach… It’s so easy being green.

Anyone who is reading this blog most likely does not need to be told how amazingly healthy leafy greens are, especially the dark varieties such as kale, chard, spinach and collards. However, buying non-organic greens from the Superstore could be doing us more harm than good. Spinach, lettuce, kale and other leafy greens are included in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen – a list of produce containing the highest levels of pesticide residue. Seriously scary stuff.

Sure you can buy organic greens at markets like Herb and Spice. But at $3.99/bunch for organic kale, I’d say it’s worthwhile to see what you can grow yourself!

#2: Babies picking stawberries

Today is Day 2 of 30 days of blog posts about why we love growing our own vegetables (and fruit!)

Reason #2: Picking and eating our own strawberries

Strawberries are one of Nature’s most delectable little creations. I would argue that there is no more perfect a moment than biting into juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberry that you have just plucked from the plant… except perhaps sharing a bowlful of juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberries that this adorable little toddler has just pluck from the plant! At 20 months of age, our daughter Sophia is an expert strawberry pick-and-eater, and is getting very good at (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) sharing her haul with mummy, daddy and even granny.

It doesn't get any sweeter than this!

It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

Now, I don’t like to brag, but have we got a motha f*ckin’ bumper crop of strawberries this year! You really do want to get invited to dessert at our place.

It has taken two seasons for the strawberry plants to get really well-established in the garden. They spent last year reproducing themselves like crazy; strawberries do this by putting out “runners” that then take root and establish a new plant. I was a bit skeptical about how much fruit our plants would ever produce, given they are located in a spot in the backyard that gets only partial sun, but they really don’t seem to mind. In turn, we don’t mind that the new growth is slowly creeping out of the garden bed and onto the lawn. We are just going to expand the bed to accommodate their search for more sunshine. This spring we spent a lot of time thinning out the plants, moving some of them around and giving some away to friends and family. Then we carefully turned some peat moss and compost into the strawberry patch. They seem to have loved the pampering!

Most importantly, this year we have been very careful to keep our stawbs under cage as soon as we saw the first flower. Without a moment’s hesitation, squirrels will gobble up your entire crop in one sitting… and those little bastards don’t even wait for the fruit to ripen! Last year we made the mistake of waiting until it was too late to protect the plants. This year we are hyper-diligent about keeping the strawberry patch secure. Borrowing some great design ideas from our friend Mark (of PLOTNONPLOT), Ben constructed an 8′x4′ cage to cover the patch, consisting of a wooden support frame and three arcs of salvaged plastic tubing, covered in chicken wire. (You can see it, somewhat out-of-focus, in the photo of Sophia.)

We have two varieties of strawberries growing in the garden. One of them, I am pleased to say (with a bit of a lump in my throat) I dug out of my Mum’s garden back home in Rossland B.C. a few years ago. I’m very happy to be sharing this taste of the Kootenays with little Sophia, who is arguably even sweeter than the strawberries. (awwwwww)

Seedy Saturday! Getting into “garden mode”

Seedy Saturday is happening in Ottawa this Saturday, March 2nd at the Ron Kolbus community centre at Britannia Park. Seed exchange table, organic local farms selling heirloom seeds, free workshops and all kinds of goodies. An organic gardener’s MUST DO to get ready for planting season… check it!

* * *

So I am a bit sheepish to admit this is my first blog post in nearly 6 months, basically since returning back to work. Call me lazy, but I find there is something about working a full-time job and raising a toddler that kind of eats into your “Oh, I think I’ll write a blog post about composting or garbage-picking” time.

Aaaanyway.

Here, I am, back at the computer, after all this time, motivated by the rapidly approaching spring and the need to start planning for indoor and outdoor planting. I know it’s hard to imagine that planting season is almost upon us when we have had such a hardcore winter that we’ve come to call -12 a “mild enough” day. But believe me people, it is almost here. Last year we planted our indoor seeds on March 10th… that’s in, like, only 2 weeks!

Ok, stop panicking (note to self: stop panicking.) Two weeks is a perfectly adequate length of time to plan a garden, provided you know where to start. Shameless self promotion here: If you DON’T know where to start and you’re thinking, after getting a few paragraphs into this post, that maybe you would like to grow some veggies this year, please shoot me an email and I’d love to come by and help out.

It definitely helps to have some experience testing out different seeds when you’re planning out what to grow. I find that with each passing year of experimenting with growing vegetables, I’ve gained a better understanding of what I like growing, how much is not enough/too much to plant, how often to plant, how much water things do/don’t like, what sorts of pests to watch for and how early and how often I can plant something, etc. etc.

I find it really helpful to sit down and make a plan, starting by thinking about what we loved from the last year(s), what we could have done without and what new veggie we’d like to try that we’ve never grown before.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Last year, we introduced Jerusalem artichoke – a definite winner, and I must learn to make a good roasted artichoke soup with them this year. We also planted our two peach and one nectarine trees, which produced a small but outrageously delicious crop of insect-free fruit. We also sprouted a sweet potato indoors and planted the slips… no spuds, but we’ll try again earlier this year! And of course there was the garlic. I still can’t believe it was the first year ever growing our own. We gifted several garlic braids to friends and family and ate garlic like we were living in a Twilight novel. We are definitely growing a lot more of that this year!

The big new thing for me this year is going to be flowers. Namely, medicinal or edible flowers. For starter, to keep it simple, maybe flax, echinacea, camomile, lavender, bee balm, nasturtiums and sunflowers. Other suggestions? I would also really love to get some raspberry and ground cherry bushes going. An old neighbour of mine grew ground cherries here in Ottawa, and they were off-the-hook. Ben and I tried planting some from seed here last year and failed miserably. This year I’ll do a bit more research.

See you at Seedy Saturday!

 

In-Season Recipe (early June): Spring Mix Salad with Shaved Radish and Baked Goat’s Cheese Medallions

Spring mix salad served with portabello mushroom and asparagus fritatta. Spring eating at it's best.

Spring mix salad served with portabello mushroom and asparagus fritatta. Spring eating at it’s best.

Randy for radishes!

Randy for radishes!

Early season harvests are the best!… tender greens, baby spinach, crisp spring onion and the pièce de résistance – ravishing ripe red radishes. Planted in early April, these tangy, peppery little delights are now ready for the picking… and the eating! It’s so tempting to eat them right out of the ground, with just a wipe on the shirt sleeve to clean them off. But they are also amazing in a salad of fresh garden greens.

Here is a delicious and simple recipe that is a perfect way to enjoy early season greens and radishes. Serve this as a light meal or as a side. It’s pictured above paired with a portabello mushroom and asparagus frittata. Enjoy!

Spring Mix Salad with Shaved Radish and Baked Goat’s Cheese Medallions

For goat’s cheese medallions:

  • Soft unripened goat’s cheese (quantity is up to you!)
  • Egg, beaten in a bowl
  • A couple handfuls of bread crumbs on a plate. (If you’re eating gluten-free, try using some ground flax and cornmeal, or whatever “breading” substitute you are using.)
  • Olive oil.

Gooey baked goat's cheese. Drool!Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a baking pan with olive oil. Shape goat’s cheese into 1tbsp sized medallions. One-by-one, dip medallions into the beaten egg and then press lightly into the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re well-coated. Place medallions on the baking pan. Bake for approx. 15 minutes, flipping once. They’re ready when golden brown on the outside and gooey soft on the inside… Mmmmmm.

While goat’s cheese is baking, toss the following in a salad bowl:

Early June harvest basket.

Early June harvest basket.

From the garden:

  • Assorted lettuce (Jericho Romaine, Red Oak Leaf and Curly Green Leaf)
  • Giant Winter spinach
  • Astro Arugula
  • Bunching spring onion
  • Cilantro
  • Raxe radishes, finely “shaved” using a carrot peeler, or chopped very thinly
  • Walnuts (or any nut you have in your cupboard)

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used a raspberry balsamic)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • tsp honey
  • tsp grainy mustard
  • sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

As soon as goat’s cheese medallions are done, toss salad in the vinaigrette and top with 2-3 medallions. Drizzle with balsamic glaze if you have it.

 

Why yes, I do have garlic breath. Thanks for noticing!

The first thing to come poking through the soil as soon as it thawed this spring was… garlic! This is our first time growing garlic, which is strange because it is one of our kitchen staples. Perhaps it’s because garlic is one of those crops that has to be planted a full two seasons ahead of its harvest; planting is done in mid-autumn (October) for a late-spring harvest (June).

Garlic shoots

Garlic shoots peeking through the soil, early spring.

Ben’s dad, an avid gardener with a kick-ass property south of Ottawa, generously gifted us 12 bulbs of his home-grown garlic for planting – a 4-clove hardneck variety. At four cloves per bulb, we planted a total of 48 garlic cloves, spaced about 4 inches apart, taking up about 14 square feet of garden. After planting we covered the soil with a layer of leaf debris to provide some insulation to the cloves for their long winter sleep.

We chose one of the sunniest garden plots for the garlic since it is the first to thaw in the spring, encouraging the garlic to sprout as early as possible. Since garlic is an early-season crop, this primo sun real estate can be taken over by later-season crops, such as tomatoes, as the garlic is harvested and thinned. In fact, “companion planting” tomatoes with garlic can help to deter pests that may be attracted to your tomato plants.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

We have a seriously obnoxious squirrel population in our backyard, and not yet knowing their tastes for garlic, we opted to protect our dear little bulbs with a couple of simple chicken wire cage boxes. These are very easy to make and consist of a rudimentary square wooden frame (using scrap/rescued wood) with a “tent” of chicken wire stapled to it, weighed down with a few rocks, juuuust in case.

Can’t wait for sweet sweet garlic… breath!